It’s been a rollercoaster week. Not just for me, but everyone.
On Saturday, I was supposed to attend a Toastmasters Tall Tales Contest, spinning a yarn about alien invaders, how the whole world is endangered by a threat we never expected. The contest was canceled because of the Coronavirus. (And no, the irony wasn’t lost on me.) Then Lisa and I tried to go to Veggie Night with our fellow Mensans, but no one showed up because of the Coronavirus.
The following week I was supposed to give a speech at the Las Vegas Mensa Regional Gathering, but I hesitated because of the Coronavirus – was I likely to get infected, or help spread the infection? I called PK Khemka, a friend and surgeon who knows about infectious diseases, and asked his opinion. What he said was a little startling.
“I was supposed to give a speech at the RG about the Coronavirus,” he explained, “but I had to cancel because of the Coronavirus.”
Screw it, if PK’s not going then neither am I. Reluctantly, I cancel my attendance, only to learn the gathering itself has been canceled because of the Coronavirus. I call the airline to ask for a refund, which they normally don’t do, but I get it all back since the flight was canceled, because of the Coronavirus.
I go to work on Monday but I’m the only one in my department who shows up, all the others are working from home, because of the Coronavirus.
It’s starting to feel like the end of the world.
I’m given a company laptop and a spare monitor, and told I should work from home, too. Processing documents can be done remotely, logging into the database with a passcode generated on my cell phone. There’s no need for human contact at all, but we can always videoconference if there’s a need for it. In the meantime, I’m sent home.
So I’m driving through Lake Forest, passing by the grassy sprawl of Rimgate Park. I pass the park every day, sometimes on my bicycle, today in my car. There’s a playground, Lisa’s grandkids occasionally play here. Sometimes they have events and exhibits, like the time (I swear) when I was bicycling past and came face-to-face with a llama. Yes, the Peruvian mammal, part of a traveling zoo for kids. He thought I was interesting, too.
On impulse, I pull over.
Normally I just want to go home, but it’s midmorning and it’s weird to be leaving work so soon, and – here’s the funny part – I’ve never seen the view from the far end of the park. It’s on a hillside surrounded by soaring alders, there must be a view but I’ve never seen it. I have this monkey urge to go see it now, in this odd new world where I have a job but no office, with no one expecting me at work even though it’s 9:30 on a weekday morning.
Because of the Coronavirus.
A paved trail leads in a broad circle around the park, past barbecue grilles, picnic tables, swingsets, and a little dinosaur you can climb on. Kids are doing that, since there’s no school because of the Coronavirus. A work crew is grooming the greenery, with hedge clippers and leaf blowers. It’s cloudy and a little cold, my favorite kind of weather.
I reach the far end of the park. You have to step off the trail to see what’s waiting, beyond the edge. I take a look and think, Oh great – just what I needed to see.
I’m looking down at El Toro Memorial Park, the local cemetery. Endless rows of memorial plaques, sprawled across the hillside under a gunmetal sky. Peaceful and serene. Oddly beautiful.
I always look for messages in things that happen. Some are subtle, others more obvious, but this one is like a slap across the face. It goes to the real horror of the Coronavirus, I think, the reason it’s so hard to look away from: We’re all going to die. Some sooner than others, but eventually everyone. Most of us ignore that, most of the time – I certainly do – but with this virus growing exponentially, twenty-five times deadlier than the flu, the fact of each and every person’s mortality is right there, in your face.
They say you’re never more alive than when you’re facing death. I say Yikes, who needs that? But if that’s where we’re stuck, looking head-on into oblivion, may I suggest that we take this opportunity to re-evaluate what’s really important, whatever that might be, and dedicate ourselves to that above all else. For me it’s writing, I’m doing it now. I don’t know what it is for you, but this horrific virus might mean you should get on with it.
When something’s difficult, they say it’s no walk in the park. This actually was a walk in the park, but easy it wasn’t. Nothing’s going to be easy, not for months. That’s the strange new world we’re living in.
Not sure I’m ready. Are you?